What You Need To Know About the 504 and IEP

By Crystal Ladwig, Ph. D.

IEP, 504, ESE, SLP, OT, PT, oh my! Special education is so full of acronyms that we can have an entire conversation that sounds like another language. It can be overwhelming

for those new to special education, whether they’re parents, caregivers, students or educators. The best educators avoid using too many acronyms and explain the ones they do use. There are two terms you’ll hear over and over again, regardless of your child’s particular needs: IEPs and 504 Plans.

What is an IEP?

IEP stands for Individualized Education Plan. It is created by a team of individuals, including parents, school staff and others you invite to the planning process of the plan. It’s a legal document required by federal special education law, and they are made for students who receive special education services and supports in public schools. All children with an IEP have a special education label, such as specific learning disability, intellectual disability or developmental delay. IEPs are updated by the team each year.

These plans are the framework for educational goals and services tailored to your child’s specific needs. Legally, IEPs must include:

  • Information about a child’s current academic and functional skills
  • Annual goals and a plan for measuring and sharing progress toward those goals throughout the year
  • A description of the services that will be provided to the child, including when, where and the duration
  • A statement about educational modifications or supports for school personnel to help your child succeed
  • An explanation about the time your child will not be in the same educational setting
  • Accommodations your child may need to ensure academic achievement

What is a 504 Plan?

A 504 Plan is similar to part of an IEP. Instead of supporting children who have differing learning abilities, 504 Plans describe educational accommodations for students who have different conditions. For example, a student with an anxiety disorder may be provided additional time to take tests, and students with ADHD may be given note-taking support. 504 Plans do not have to be updated annually, but it’s good to review them periodically as your child’s needs and education evolve.

How do I know which one my child needs?

If you think your child may need additional support to succeed in school, speak with your child’s teacher. You can request an evaluation to see if they are eligible for special education services or educational accommodations. The goal is to give your child the support they deserve to succeed in school. If you are considering an IEP or a 504 plan, talk with your child’s teacher or school counselor.


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